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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

West Side Churches Donate $46,000 In Scholarships During Basketball Game

The scholarships were handed out to 44 high school and college students who were born, raised or connected to the city's West Side.

Rev. Ira Acree with scholarship recipient Henry Johnson during a basketball game.
Courtesy Rev. Ira Acree
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AUSTIN — Looking to show young West Siders a better path, church leaders in Austin gave away $46,000 in scholarships to 44 high school and college students during a community basketball game Sunday.

The Greater St. John Bible Church and Joshua Baptist Church hosted the basketball game at Christ the King Jesuit College Prep, 5088 W. Jackson Blvd., as a way for young people to connect with each other and their neighbors and have fun in the last days of summer, church leaders said.

During the game, students were presented with scholarships that will help them achieve their goal of going to and graduating from college.

The scholarships ranged from $1,000 to $1,500, said Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church. Interested applicants needed to be born, raised or connected to the West Side, and they submitted their GPA and an essay explaining how they will improve the West Side in their careers.

The scholarship program has existed in some form since 2001, according to Austin Weekly News. The program is made possible through donations; with more coming in, Acree said he expects to award a total of $50,000 in scholarships this year.

“We’re very proud to invest back in young scholars,” Acree said. “We must keep pushing and pressing for a better society to pursue life and liberty, and we need to help people that have been disadvantaged.”

Credit: Rev. Ira Acree
Two men playing basketball at an event hosted by the Greater St. John Bible Church and Joshua Baptist Church.

Mark Howard, a 20-year-old English major at Howard University, received a $1,500 scholarship. He was born and raised in Austin and credits his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother for keeping him grounded, all of whom are members of the Greater St. John Bible Church.

“Growing up in a Black church, I feel like newer generations get less religious and explore different things, but the community is still there,” Howard said. “These institutions are vital to our community. I don’t know where I’d be without those strong Black women in my life.”

Acree stressed the importance of an education for West Side kids while acknowledging the obstacles Black Chicagoans face when it comes to school.

Nearly three out of four students and young people arrested on Chicago Public Schools grounds during the 2019-2020 academic year were Black, but Black students made up only 36 percent of the CPS student body, according to CPS data.

Students and young people who are punished repeatedly at a young age fall into a cycle of violence, with Acree calling the West Side’s disinvestment a “collaborative failure of multiple institutions.”

“Racism robs people of economic and educational opportunities,” Acree said. “When the quality of your education is determined by your zip code, that’s a recipe for failure.”

Acree gave special recognition at the basketball game to Michele Clark High School principal Charles Anderson. Acree praised Anderson as a role model in the Lawndale community while noting the ouster of several Black principals, which has raised concerns of discrimination among their supporters.

“We wanted to encourage these students and we wanted to uplift one of the leaders who’s making a difference at a time when black male principals are under siege at Chicago Public Schools,” Acree said.

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